In this paper, we explore an under-investigated question concerning the class of formal models that aim at providing normative guidance. We call such models normative models. In particular, we examine the question of how normative models can successfully exert normative guidance. First, we highlight the absence of a discussion of this question—which is surprising given the extensive debate about the success conditions of descriptive models—and motivate its importance. Second, we introduce and discuss two potential accounts of the success conditions of normative models. Our tentative conclusion is that the second account is more promising.
Work under review and in progress:
Two traditions of experiments in economics are especially prominent, namely cognitive psychology experiments in the heuristics and biases tradition (H&B-experiments) and experimental economics in the tradition of Vernon Smith. In this paper, I aim to offer a novel reconstruction of the two experimental paradigms that can highlight a plausible source of their pervasive disagreements. Towards this aim, I focus on preferences as one of the most fundamental concepts in economics. I argue that experimental economics can be reconstructed as holding that the constituents of preferences can be partially located in agents’ environments, while H&B-experiments implicitly assume that the constituents of preferences are entirely located within agents’ bodies. The paper (i) outlines how my reconstruction can account for the disagreement between the two paradigms, (ii) defends the plausibility of this reconstruction, (iii) and highlights its implications for the debate about the nature of preferences in economics.
Scholars of behavioral welfare economics disagree about the plausibility of preference purification - the idea that some “purer” preferences track people’s welfare better than others. Some tout preference purification as a familiar phenomenon and a solution to the problem of paternalism in welfare policy. Others denounce it as conceptually incoherent, postulating that it relies on the psychologically implausible assumption of an inner rational agent. I argue that the debate turns on different notions of rationality: the account of the foundations of preference purification that its critics use to undermine its psychological plausibility aligns with a procedural notion of rationality. Yet, some of its proponents align more closely with a structural notion of rationality. In a first step, I, therefore, explicate how structural rationality allows us to offer a more defensible account of the foundations of preference purification, one that doesn’t appeal to an inner rational agent. In a second step, I argue that, while this recasting by itself is unlikely to resolve the debate, it sits particularly well with the so-called evidential account of the relationship between preferences and welfare. In this regard, I point out two challenges for preference purification that emerge under the novel account introduced here and argue that the evidential account has the resources to address these challenges.
Functionalism about kinds is still the dominant style of thought in the special sciences, like economics, psychology, and biology. Generally construed, functionalism is the view that states or processes can be individuated based on what role they play rather than what they are constituted of or realized by. Recently, Weiskopf has posited a reformulation of functionalism on the model-based approach to explanation. We refer to this reformulation as 'new functionalism.' In this paper, we seek to defend new functionalism and to re-cast it in light of the concrete explanatory needs of the special sciences. In particular, we argue that the assessment of the explanatory legitimacy of a functional kind needs to take into account the explanatory purpose of the model in which the functional kind is employed. We aim at demonstrating this by appealing to model-based explanations from the social and behavioral sciences. Specifically, we focus on preferences and signals in game theoretical models. Our argument is intended to have the double impact of deflecting mechanistic criticisms against new functionalism while also expanding its scope to the social and behavioral sciences.
At early stages: